Tag Archives: Western Balkans

Kosovo’s First Elections

On December 12, 2010, Kosovo held its first general election since declaring independence from Serbia in 2008. The elections were a test of Kosovo’s democratic institutions – unfortunately, they are unlikely to be remembered as a resounding success.  You can read the full analysis which appeared in Chatham House’s current affairs publication, The World Today, written by Jelena Obradovic-Wochnik.

Western Balkans in 2010: small improvements and big scandals

The Western Balkans, as a region in transition, are prone to bouts of activity, and are rarely out of the news. The past year was no exception. Several events stood out – the International Court of Justice (ICJ) ruled on Kosovo’s declaration of independence in July 2010, expressing its opinion that this move was not against international law; former Croatian president Ivo Sanader was accused of corruption; the current Prime Minister of Kosovo, Hasim Thaci, was implicated in an illegal organ smuggling racket in a Council of Europe report, whilst Kosovo held its first elections since independence; Schengen visas were waived for Bosnia and Albania and Montenegro’s Prime Minister, Milo Djukanovic, resigned.  Some minor but significant events also took place: Serbia and Turkey signed a visa waiver agreement and in Serbia itself, a spate of arrests and anti-corruption investigations against high profile public figures took place, and the government officially approached the INTERPOL to seek assistance with two remaining war crimes suspects, Ratko Mladic and Goran Hadzic. At the same time, the leading Serbian daily, Politika, opened up the debate on pros and cons of Serbia’s NATO membership.

With the exception of fraud and smuggling allegations, the developments in the region have been, on the whole, positive. Importantly, they indicate that important changes are taking place in the formerly war-torn and unstable region, and most of those are geared towards Euro-Atlantic integration. The prospect of EU membership particularly, has long been a catalyst for change in the Western Balkans, particularly in Bosnia-Herzegovina where it is deemed to be the only common goal of a still ethnically divided population. But, as events of 2010 indicate, changes in the region are starting to take place much faster than they used to. Serbia, for example, has been criticised for its slow, reluctant and often non-existent cooperation with the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY), but in the space of two years, has achieved a much more positive progress report from chief prosecutor Serge Brammertz.  Serbia, for its part, has finally taken the process of EU integration seriously, complying with its war crimes conditionality in a much more serious (if not altogether productive) way.

Similarly, the commitment and readiness of Croatia and Serbia at tackling corruption is a strong indicator that politics in both countries are finally maturing and are approaching something that we may expect in a stable, European democracy.  For decades, corruption across the Balkans has been endemic, reaching the highest echelons of power. The sudden flurry of activity at tackling corruption amongst the business elite marks a very important change in the governance of the region. Thanks to a serious commitment a transparency and democracy, the region in general, but Serbia in particular, is finally demonstrating that it is starting to overcome its legacies of conflict and Communism.

Of course, not all developments in the past year have been positive as the case of Kosovo demonstrates. The elections of 12 December 2010 are still marred by accusation voting irregularities, and it is believed that only two Serbs out of an estimated 60,000 in Kosovo’s disputed northern territory, turned out to vote. Only days later, a Council of Europe report dealing with the grotesque case of organ smuggling (implicating Serbs from Kosovo), raised serious allegations against the current Prime Minister Hasim Thaci. The report raised tensions between Serbia and Kosovo – Thaci denied all allegations, whilst the Serbian leaders and media responded angrily to the report and threatened to suspend any future Kosovo-Serbia negotiations. However, only days later, the Serbian President Boris Tadic responded in  a much more measured way that the dialogue will continue. The report will be considered in detail by the Council of Europe in January 2011.

Despite this, the region has demonstrated that, it is perfectly capable of working together to solve its main obstacles of EU integration. Cooperation between states has certainly improved as has the political will to tackle corruption. This bodes well for 2011. Although the road to EU membership has been long and does not look like it will end any time soon, the prospect of candidacy has spurred on some real changes in the region this year, demonstrating that when the political elite is mature and understands the importance of change, huge leaps can be made in cooperation and improved relations in a relatively short time.

This trend of small improvements spurned on by prospect of Euro-Atlantic integration, looks set to continue in the next year. The case of Hasim Thaci will continue to mar regional politics until it is finally resolved,  but if Kosovo demonstrates real commitment to the case and takes it as seriously as Croatia has the Sanader case, then the prospects are positive, demonstrating that Kosovo is well on its way to becoming a serious player in regional politics. If, however, Kosovo authorities dispute the case before its ultimate conclusion, this will only agitate Serbia and Republika Srpska (Serb entity of Bosnia-Herzegovina), potentially also drawing in others into the argument and threatening to undo all the current progress on regional cooperation.

Student Guest Post: Balkan Times

This student guest post is from Luke John Davies, who just completed our MA EU and International Relations and has recently returned from Youth in Action, a European Commission funded programme.


Balkan times

I was recently privileged enough to spend two weeks in the Balkans on an EU programme called Youth In Action. YIA is a programme run by the European Commission to promote cooperation and friendships between different nationalities across Europe. It runs various programmes, reimburses 70% of your travel fees, and pays for all your food and accommodation and for the workshops on the programme. More information can be found here.  

The first week was in Avala, just outside Belgrade, Serbia. This was what is called a “Youth Exchange” where young people from across Europe (we had groups from the UK, Spain, Norway, Macedonia, Belarus and of course Serbia) meet up and discuss a topic of common interest, in this case we were discussing the concept of identity in Europe. The workshops allowed us to discuss our own identity and what we felt were common themes of European identity. The week wasn’t a holiday, there was a lot of work involved in the workshops, but it was a lot of fun. I met some incredible people and we spent some time in Belgrade, which is a wonderful city. The workshops were fun and imaginative and I can heartily recommend both Serbia and the YIA programme.

The second week was in Ponikva, in the Balkan mountains in the north of Macedonia. This was not a youth exchange, but a training course, on the subject of Gender Equality. The objective of TCs in the YIA programme is to equip young people with the skills to make a difference in their own countries; the objective of this programme was to train us to run workshops on women’s rights. This was even more hard work than the youth exchange in Serbia, but was incredibly thought-provoking and also goes on the CV as a qualification through the “Youth Pass” system. The Macedonian week was even more diverse, with participants from the UK, Macedonia, France, Sweden, Serbia, Ukraine, Russia, Turkey, Albania, Kosovo and Lithuania. Several of the participants are now organising women’s rights workshops, myself and four others are in the early stages of planning a Youth Exchange on women’s rights to be held in Kosovo next May.

Perhaps the most amazing part of these opportunities is the people you meet. You really get to realise that people are the same everywhere and that the problems we face in Europe are best solved by working across borders and cultures. The first week in Serbia was in early October, and 3 months later I still talk online with many of the participants on a daily basis. The Macedonian group were even closer and, as I say, some of us are now working together to organise other YIA projects. If you ever get the chance to do a YIA project, do it! If you don’t get the chance, go to the link above and make the chance!

Serbia, Croatia and the Question of Reconcilliation

On 4 November 2010, Serbian President Boris Tadic paid a historic visit to Croatia. More specifically, Tadic visited Vukovar, the infamous site of battle in the Croatian war of 1991-1995. During his visit, Tadic became the first Serbian leader to publicly and officially apologise for the murder of 260 Croats by Serb forces in 1991. Tadic stated he wished to ‘share words of apology, to express our sympathy, to create the possibility for Serbs and Croats…to turn a new page in history.;

Tadic’s visit was deemed to be so monumental that it was broadcast by all major news agencies, including the BBC, Deutsche Welle and Associated Press. European leaders heaped praise on Tadic’s apology, and observers commented that this could be the long-awaited start of a difficult reconciliation process between the two countries.

In Serbia however, Tadic’s apology has received a mixed reaction. Mainstream media outlets and internet commentators have been quick to point out that ‘other’ sides have not responded in a satisfactory manner to the war crimes committed against Serb civilians in 1991-1995, and as a result, Tadic should not extend any apologies in this regard.

Tadic’s apology follows the Serbian Parliament’s April 2010 ‘Declaration on Srebrenica’, a much discussed piece of legislature condemning the Srebrenica massacre – the first such act that Serbia has delivered unequivocally. Prior to this, official Serbia has been slow to recognize acts of war crimes in Croatia and Bosnia, save for visits to the Srebrenica commemoration and an apology to Bosnian Muslims by President Tadic (which had no parliamentary backing), and a handful of attempts by liberally minded MPs to push through legislation.  There have been suggestions that Serbia’s recent attempts at transitional justice, as well as the 2008 arrest of long time fugitive and Hague indictee Radovan Karadzic, have only been carried out as a result of international pressure and Serbia’s EU integration hopes. With this, there is also an implications that Serbia is a country ‘stuck in the past’ and unable to move on from its nationalist legacy, which may be true for some more extreme political parties, but applied to Serbia as a whole, this oversimplifies a very complex process of reconciliation.

Furthermore, as most scholars on reconciliation and transitional justice would point out, the process of understanding atrocities of the past and bringing the perpetrators to justice involves all sectors of the society. Hence, legislation and presidential apologies are not enough to kick-start a process of reconciliation, which must also take place within the civil society. However, considering Serbia’s difficulties with the question of war crimes and reconciliation in general, and its previous reluctance to cooperate with the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) in particular, the recent declaration and apology do mean a lot.

Since the assassination of reform-oriented prime minister Zoran Djindjic in 2003, Serbia has lacked a leader with both vision and capability of taking forward the war crimes question. President Tadic, who has for a long time lacked influence and power needed to not only arrest fugitive war criminals but also to open the war crimes debate, has finally been able to use his position to influence the course of reconciliation.   Although all sectors of civil society do need to be in broad agreement about the aims of reconciliation for this to be a meaningful process, the Serbian civil society at last has a leading figure for this exercise.  This kind of reconciliation may at the moment be motivated by EU integration, but as long as political leaders in the country are keeping the war crimes question visible and active in Serbia, this is not an altogether detrimental process.

Welcome to our new MA students

We are very pleased to welcome our new cohort of twelve Masters students this year. The students are taking part on the programme MA EU and International Relations, and the Double MA programme which is offered jointly with the Institut d’Etudes Politiques Lille. This semester’s lectures on European Security, International Relations and Research Methods have started, and the group is hard at already work in their MA students’ office, preparing their readings and class discussions.

This week, we will also welcome our new postgraduate student from Albania, who is taking part on our Professional Development course through a specially designed one semester programme for students from the European University Tirana. The students on this programme will take part in MA-level classes and will begin to prepare their MA thesis, before returning home to complete their degree.

In other MA student news, Luke John Davis (MA EU and International Relations in 2009-2010), has just returned from a Youth in Action Conference in Belgrade, Serbia, where he discussed problems of European integration with other students from across Europe.

Welcome to Aston Centre for Europe


Welcome to the Aston Centre for Europe blog!

Aston Centre for Europe has had an exciting year.  We have grown in size, won research and event funding and put on a series of interesting events. Over the last twelve months, we’ve hosted  high level speakers who addressed our audiences on a diverse range of topics.

In December 2009, we started with the first of our series of events funded by the European Commission. We discussed the European parliament with Prof Simon Hix as the keynote speaker, with Gisela Stuart MP, Malcolm Harbour MEP, Phil Bennion (Liberal Democrat MEP candidate), and David Harley (former Deputy Secretary General of the European Parliament and a practitioner fellow of Aston Centre for Europe) taking part in the debate.

In April 2010 we hosted a conference on the Legacies of 1989, another European Commissions funded event, which examined democratic change in Eastern Europe. We were very privileged to hear Sir Christopher Mallaby, former British Ambassador to East Germany, Prof Alan Mayhew (Sussex) and Prof George Kolankiewicz (UCL) who provided a fascinating insight into the twenty years of democratic change in Eastern Europe.

Our final event of the academic year was a high level conference on Green Growth and Sustainability.  The conference was funded by the European Commission and we worked very closely with the Birmingham Chamber of Commerce. At the conference we heard from Ian Robertson (BMW AG), Peter Vis, (Head of Cabinet to European Commissioner for Climate Action), Fiona Harvey (Financial Times), Prof David Bailey (Coventry University), Naresh Kumar (Rolls Royce), Chris White MP and Paul Tilsley (Deputy Leader of Birmingham City Council) amongst many other notable speakers.

In between the larger conferences, we kept busy hosting smaller lectures and guest speakers.  We discussed the Cambodian genocide with Denise Affonco; examined the reasons behind global conflicts with Prof Daniel Chirot (University of Washington); talked about Eand examined the future of the Euro with David Marsh, and discussed population change with Prof Jane Falkingham during the British Science Festival 2010.

Our series of exciting events and lectures continues this year. To make sure you keep up to date with the latest, join our email list by sending us your details to europe@aston.ac.uk